American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: June 25, 2014
  • Case #: 13-461
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas and Alito, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the language and purpose of the Copyright Act of 1976, contemporaneous transmission of broadcast television signals over the Internet are public performances whenever the signals are made available to the public.

Respondent offers a service to receive broadcast television performances via antenna, store the signals, and rebroadcast them online for individual subscribers at their discretion, including contemporaneously with the original broadcast. Petitioners, holders of the exclusive right to publicly broadcast these performances, sought a preliminary injunction against Respondent for publicly transmitting the performances without licenses as required under § 101 of the Copyright Act. The district court granted summary judgment for Petitioners. Respondent appealed. The Second Circuit reversed the decision, holding that Respondent does not publicly transmit signals, but transmits privately to each subscriber. The Supreme Court reverses the Second Circuit in favor of the Petitioners.

The Supreme Court holds that while Respondent only offers a means to acquire the signal, its service is sufficiently similar to the community antenna television (“CATV”) service that Congress sought to regulate under the Copyright Act of 1976, and therefore Respondent’s service is a performance, and that such performances are public transmissions where an entity “‘transmit[s] … a performance … to the public’ … even if when doing so, it simply enhances viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals.” Public performance therefore exists even in these circumstances, where each of Respondent’s transmissions occur solely upon requests by subscribers.

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